Dr Frank Barney Gorton Stableford gave his name to the most popular points scoring system ever to be adopted, writes CONOR FLEETWOOD
On every day of every week in just about every golf club in Ireland, most competitions are played under the Stableford rules. This unique scoring system allows the most humble of hackers the opportunity of playing a full round of golf and, utilizing their official handicap, finish that round with an acceptable score.
To non-golfers (and long suffering non-playing golfers partners), this scoring system may appear to be incredibly complicated but the Stableford scoring system was developed to deter golfers from giving up on their round after just one or two bad holes.
Unlike traditional scoring methods, where the aim is to have the lowest score, under Stableford rules, the objective is to have the highest score or points total.
Rather than counting the total number of strokes taken, as in stroke play (stroke play being the game we see every weekend on the television starring Rory McIlroy, Paul Dunne, Tiger Woods et al), the Stableford scoring system involves scoring points based on the number of strokes taken at each hole.
It can have the added benefit of speeding up the pace of play, as once it is no longer possible to score a point, a player does not have to complete the hole, (no quadruple bogey’s) as in stroke play, but can simply pick up his/her ball and proceed to the next hole.
Phew! So what are the origins of this wonderful system that allows us hackers a chance to win every Saturday?
How many eminent members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, recognised as one of the governing authorities of the rules of golf, sat on the committee to develop the Stableford system?
It is all thanks to one man, one excellent golfer who not only gave us this system but gave his name to it, one Doctor Frank Barney Gorton Stableford.
Medicine was his profession, but golf was Stableford’s obsession.
Born in 1870 in the English midlands, Stableford, while earning his medical degree when he was 24, played his early golf on the Robin Hood course near Birmingham.
He then moved to Cardiff and joined Glamorganshire Golf Club before going off to the Boer War in South Africa.
On his return, he continued with his medical practice and managed to excel at golf, recording a very impressive handicap of plus 1. In 1907 he won the club championship at Royal Porthcawl.
His medical career brought him to Wallasey near Liverpool and he joined the local golf club in 1914.
But once again, armed conflict entered Stableford’s life and, leaving behind a handicap of 3, he signed up and served as a major with the Royal Army Medical Corp.
In his service for King and Country, he received many commendations and at the conclusion of the war he returned to Wallasey for his medical practice and his beloved golf. Records now show him with a handicap of 7 and by 1922 show that his handicap had risen to 8.
Doctor Stableford was not a happy man. And the reason was always the same. His score.
The scoring system at the time, often referred to as The Bogey System, was totally unforgiving in the high winds at Wallasey and everywhere else as well.
In Stableford’s eyes, the scoring system just was not fair. He’d tell this to anyone who would listen. He acknowledged that golf was, indeed, a frustrating game, but it was the scoring structure that made it so punishing.
A man could play a pretty good game overall, but by messing up on a couple of holes he could come in with a scorecard that was embarrassing to sign.
There had to be a fairer way, a more meaningful reflection of a golfer’s play.
Stableford had experimented with a scoring system when briefly a member of Glamorganshire in 1898, then aged 28. He took the scores from a normal bogey competition and used a points system to identify a ‘winner’, but the system proved unsatisfactory and was not repeated and by then, Stableford had left for South Africa.
And so, 31 years after his initial experiment, he decided to try his system again.
His revised system took the whole of the player’s handicap which was added to his total score, but it wasn’t until the system was allied hole by hole to the stroke index that it took off to become the world’s most popular scoring system. (Yes, it is confusing but to weekend golfers it is a lifesaver!)
He tried it out on his fellow members at Wallasey and while Stableford was a popular and much respected golfer, the initial reaction to his radical proposal was somewhat less than a rousing reception.
After some fine-tuning, many of Stableford’s golfing friends began to sample it regularly, and they liked it. And their enthusiasm for it soon rubbed off on the rest of the members.
Finally, in 1932, May 16 to be exact, the first Stableford competition was held at Wallasey. It was won by a five-handicap Liverpool stockbroker with a winning score of 34 points, and the innovation received a sound endorsement from the players.
Before long, the new system was being tried all over Britain, and, eventually, wherever the game was played around the world. Club golfers have been indebted to the good doctor ever since.
With his system universally received, Dr. Stableford, now retired from medical practice, continued to improve his game. He became captain of Wallasey Golf Club, dressed in an extravagant manner, sported a fine handlebar moustache and amused members by arriving in his yellow Rolls Royce.
Sadly, this great though mostly unheralded man who had served with distinction and decoration in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a surgeon and colonel during World War I, the Boer War and the Mad Mullah of Somaliland uprising, was diagnosed, at age 89 in 1959, as going blind.
On a September evening he played his usual round of golf at Wallasey & Royal Liverpool, (his score is not recorded), returned to his home, settled in the leather chair in his study with his pipe and brandy, wrote a note, took out his gun and shot himself in the head.
In an obituary in The Times of London, the columnist Henry Longhurst wrote: “I doubt whether any single man did more to increase the pleasure of the humble club golfer.”
“I just wanted to make golf enjoyable,” Stableford once said.